The Secrets Behind Watch Dogs’ Next Gen Experience

Building an open-world game ain’t easy. Without a strong foundation, everything can quickly collapse. In the case of Watch Dogs that foundation is the Disrupt engine, the product of over four years of dedication and tests and trials. In that time Ubisoft Montreal has built an engine that’s both flexible and efficient, while allowing for an astounding level of detail and a seamlessly online environment.

Watch Dogs - Breaking Down Disrupt

Senior Producer Dominic Guay breaks down this awe-inspiring engine into three parts: dynamism, impact on the city, and connectivity. And because the Disrupt engine was built specifically to power Watch Dogs, we also uncovered a healthy helping of new gameplay details to go along with all the tantalizing tech talk.


The surface layer of the Disrupt engine is focused on what Guay describes as “dynamism,” or the simulation systems within the game: “In our city we simulate the way people drive cars. The electricity is simulated. The water is simulated. The wind is simulated. Everything reacts to everything. Making all those systems talk to one another is where you get branching reactions.”

Watch Dogs - Breaking Down Disrupt

Take the rain, for example. When the sky starts to open up, civilians will pull out umbrellas. The lights reflect off wet surfaces. We can see the wind shifting the direction of the rain and blowing debris around. Even leaves and trash on the ground will begin to appear damp and weighted down by moisture. These small but significant details lend an unparalleled level of immersion to Watch Dogs.

Even the clothing comes to life in Watch Dogs. It boggles the mind to think about just how long was spent getting the simple act of Aiden putting his hands in his pockets to look just right. The wind pulling at a passerby’s clothing will cause them to tighten their jackets. “Everyone on the street should have clothing simulation,” Guay says. “We want to see it blow in the wind and move with them.”

Watch Dogs - Breaking Down Disrupt

These are merely the “details,” though. Something major like a car crash will create a widespread ripple effect. Civilians will get caught up in a traffic jam and start honking or even leave their cars to investigate. Others will be injured in the wreck. Onlookers will alert emergency response teams. It all combines to offer an unprecedented amount of realism in a videogame.


As important as those details are, a game isn’t made with raindrops and dynamically generated bullet holes alone. Also important are the ways in which a player can affect the entire city, primarily noticeable through its residents. While there’s no simplistic back-and-white morality system in Watch Dogs, Aiden’s actions will trigger reactions from the game’s NPCs. We got the breakdown from Animation Director Colin Graham: “The reputation system isn’t a good or evil meter. It’s actually the perception people have of your actions. It completely affects how the city will react to you. If you run around just taking everybody out and killing tons of people, the citizens are going to think you’re kind of a jerk and they’re going to call the cops every time you do something wrong. You’re going to get spotted by the media more.”

Watch Dogs - Breaking Down Disrupt

In other words, should you choose to play the game in a more openly violent fashion – gun constantly in hand, killing indiscriminately in front of civilians – the people of Chicago will be more liable to turn on you. They will call the police when they see you, and your face will wind up on the news a lot more often. “We think it’s much more empowering to the player if he feels like he has made an impact on the city,” Guay elaborates. “We want him to make his own decisions instead of us forcing decisions on him.”


In Watch Dogs, you can go from being connected and online with other players to being fully disconnected – without affecting the world or changing the environment. That’s no small feat, and this seamless connectivity is another key pillar of the Disrupt engine. “There’s no loading or matchmaking or waiting for a game to start,” Guay says. “That means that every single thing in the game needed to be ready to be synchronized with the network. Every aspect of animation and physics and the AI needed to work online with other players.”

Watch Dogs - Breaking Down Disrupt

But don’t worry about thousands of stalkers, hackers and griefers ruining your day. When you’re in your game, you won’t see other players just running around wreaking havoc. That would diminish the immersion Disrupt works so hard to build. The only time another player will actually enter your world is when they accept a contract with your name on it. From there they can creep through your city streets, stalking you until they decide to strike. They will appear to you as any other Chicagoan, just like you would appear nondescript to them should you invade their game. There will never be two Aidens on the screen.

Though the engine is built with this connectivity in mind, it can be turned off for players who prefer to explore unhindered by any outside influences. The multiplayer will also be unavailable during story missions, so you don’t need to worry about hackers while you’re in the middle of an important moment.

Watch Dogs - Breaking Down Disrupt


We know not everyone will be rushing out to buy the new PS4 or Xbox One right away and that’s totally okay. Enter the “fourth pillar” of Disrupt: The engine was built for next-gen, but it’s flexible enough to allow owners of current-gen systems to still get an amazing experience. “We knew we would have next-gen hardware coming out before we ship,” Guay says. “But we started off knowing we wanted to support PS3 and Xbox 360.” The trick is in knowing how to scale things appropriately for both console generations. This allows designers to keep the overall experience the same. “On current-gen systems we may need to cut down the number of people on the street a little, but it’s still the same game. You don’t get the same sense of the crowd, but it allows us to scale certain bits and keep the same experience.”

Graham illuminates the graphical differences: “Players are going to know they aren’t getting a bad experience if they play Watch Dogs for the current gen, but the next gen is the real HD experience. You can zoom in another level. You can have better shaders, better simulation on the wind or the water, more particles, better atmospherics… Basically anything you can get with more computing power.”

Watch Dogs - Breaking Down Disrupt

So have no fear if you plan on playing Watch Dogs on the PS3 or 360. There are no trimmed-down mechanics to make you feel as though you are missing out on the core experience. Watch Dogs is truly a next-gen game – not just in terms of offering cutting edge graphical performance on the next generation of consoles, but also when it comes to the gameplay, the immersion and the seamless online experience. And that’s due in large part to a great foundation: the Disrupt Engine.

Watch Dogs


Release date — May 27, 2014
Developer — Ubisoft Montreal
Players will assume the role of Aiden Pearce, a new type of vigilante who, with the help of his smartphone, will use his ability to hack into Chicago’s central operating system (ctOS) and control almost every element of the city. Aiden will be able to tap into the city’s omnipresent security cameras, download personal information to locate a target, control systems such as traffic lights or public transportation to stop a chase, and more. The city of Chicago is now the ultimate weapon.

ESRB Rating: MATURE with Blood, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Alcohol
The Author

Anne Lewis began her career as an editor at PlayStation: The Official Magazine, where she worked under former UbiBlog editor Gary Steinman. Now she's a lone wolf, prowling around her corner of the office and slowly descending into madness. Alas. When Anne isn’t writing about games, she's alphabetizing her comic book collection or shooting at stuff with a bow. Follow her on Twitter: @BDRAnneLewis

Jrrotc 5pts

I like your idea!

Inick 5pts

Looks awesome! When they are going to release this game?

Thomas H.
Thomas H. 5pts

Wow this game looks awesome! I have a next-gen console(won't be specific) so the graphics should look great. I don't know what people are talking about a graphic downgrade? i didn't notice any difference from E3 2012'S Demo to the recent welcome to Chicago trailer released on Thursday. Look's like an amazing beautiful unique open-world experience! Can't wait for May 27th!!!!!

Kazuo 5pts

As a matter of fact, I still holdbmy WiiU preorder from gamestop since it was available for preorder.

huma_dawii 5pts

Im waiting for the Wii U version to be showed.... we don't know nothing about that version and it's pretty much the most immersive Gameplay with the Gamepad *0*

Kazuo 5pts

I hope the WiiU version is not just a simple port. That would be shameful for Ubisoft to just do a craptastic port of a brand new first major IP. I am really hoping the WiiU version graphically/visually looks better than the PS3/360 ver. I hope they put the WiiU's eDRAM to use to create a beautiful game.

T M 5pts

Nice article thank you. When can we pre-order on steam please ?

ganewo 5pts

for install of game for xbox 360 Can be installed in usb 16GB or harddrive required ?

mohammad 5pts

The game is very well but i do not know how download this game .

Roxx 5pts



Formaturself 5pts

I got a PS4 Pre-Ordered. I have been contemplating a cancel of that and getting a GTX 770 for the PC version. I understand they are all the same game and all will be really fun but I love super high def stuff like the realistic mods people come up with. Will the tablet apps for each system be compatible with another? Or will the PC have its own tablet app or windows phone app, Sony a Android app etc. I would like ubi to post high end pc screen caps of various things and put it beside a ps4 version so I can make the best decision. Basically this game, The Crew, Drive Club, The Division will be my main games if I choose to keep the ps4.

Dragos 5pts

This game looks awsome, I will by it for sure. I can say Watch Dogs vs Bioshock Infinite vs GTA V for the game of the year!

Raul 5pts

e foarte tare!!!!

Adam 5pts

You know. I'd REALLLY like to know the PC version's system requirements!

Eli 5pts

Ever since I first heard about this game I can't get it off of my mind. I'm a HUGE Assassin's Creed fan but, I think that this game will be better than AC4 and that's not something I would just joke about. I've already pre-ordered the PS4, AC4, and Watch Dogs and I'm counting down the days till my life is over, cuz I'll be playing it 24/7. Watch Dogs is my #1 choice for Game of the Year!

Matthew 5pts

What if you do not have wi-fi connected to your xbox360?

Connor 5pts

I personally think that this is game of the year material and I hope to get it next-gen. I did wonder if there were any flying vehicles that Aiden can pilot and if Aiden's smart phone required charging.

Sujan 5pts

Probably going to get this Next-Gen cause I am not rebuying only new game i would get current gen is GTA V otherwise Ubisoft's two big games are next-gen for me

Pit 5pts

I'd like to know how will the gameplay on Wii U. Can't wait for a video

I really think that I will take on this console instead of PC

Robby 5pts

This is my most anticipated game of the year easy! If it wasn't for the fact I would have to play it on current gen, I would throw every game I own in a fire to play this now. And with the random crime generator that will keep things fresh for a very long time. And that looks to be a Desert Eagle in the final screenshot, I really hope they have some Glock Variant.

DM 5pts

I'll probably be picking up the PS3 version. It won't look as good as the next gen but it should still be an amazing game!

Sam 5pts

I am not sure if this has been asked before.. but can Aiden swim, and if he can, does it have an impact on his phone or anything? I am just curious after reading this. I am looking forward to getting the game on hopefully the PS4 and being able to fully immerse myself into the game

Jesba 5pts

Instant buy on Wii U for me (along with AC4), as long as the platform is given the attention it deserves. I have faith in Ubisoft delivering.

superchunk 5pts

I can't wait to buy the Wii U version!

Namko 5pts

What about the PC/WiiU version?

Niko 5pts

This game is going to rock! I LOVE THE IDEA, its a must buy. But GTA V is going to be the game of the year...sorry ubisoft i love you too <3

LordCrash 5pts

Really nice article, thanks.

I have one question though: will the PC version be based on the current-gen or next-gen version or in other words: will we be able to experience the best version of the game on PC as well (after Ubisoft stating that the game will be best on next-gen consoles.....)

Scott S.
Scott S. 5pts

I'm seeing a lot of lethal uses with hacking. How about the idea of a celebrity tweeting they will be at a location(player's choice) to draw huge crowds and cause distraction for guards. Completing those 'hack into the CTOS' missions to unlock more area are what i like to knock out first. I think stealing a in-game celeb's social media page to draw big crowds to areas of interest could be another fun tactic to use. Watch Dogs 2 maybe?

Kazuo 5pts

I am with you all the way. I wish they could show us some WiiU footage or at least give us details on how it looks/performs on the system. Ever since the WiiU delay announcement they have been silent about it.

Dragos 5pts

My guess for max settings: HD7970 and a Intel I5/I7 or a AMD FX63xx or 68xx, at last 4 GB of RAM. If you don't own a HD7970 or GTX680 you should wait for HD9970 or HD8970( whic one comes first)

Alexandre 5pts

If he has a phone that can support that thing all the time, probably his phone has aqua protection... it's not any news that thing... and he can swim

Connor 5pts

That's actually a great question. I don't know the answer, but my best guess is that since in one of the demos Aiden gets into a boat to escape the police, that there is some level of interactivity with water, suggesting he can swim. But that's just a theory, your guess is as good as mine.

Nyonka 5pts

Awww, GTA V can't be the best game, because they made it ONLY for PS3 and Xbox360...

Pros: Good game

Cons: No releases for everybody, on older versions of consoles and... Sad and bad...

Sora 5pts

Since the system architecture on the next-gen consoles are very close to PCs, the PC version should be best version because they will probably ported down from PC to the next-gen consoles.

Riddla 5pts

As stated in the article, the engine scales to the platform. It's not a case of "basing" the PC version on one of those, it's the same game with the lid left off. Whatever your hardware supports is the experience you'll get. PC is basically the no holds barred version, as any decent PC version is. I would expect 30% or so more graphical fidelity in conjunction with busier streets, more animated objects on screen etc on the PC version, simply because a high end machine will have more grunt than any console.

Philly 5pts

If you think GTA V wont be game on the year JUST because it's not on PC and next gen consoles then you need to seriously get you're head checked O_o.

AD 5pts

I would agree with NYONKA on this, because GTA not being on PC could be a major drawback which may lead to downfall as the number of people would want it in PC? Other than that the Gameplay is amazing, the length of the map the three protagonists and everything else about GTA is absolutely brilliant. If you see GTA SanAndreas it was the highest selling game in GTA Series because the number of copies sold was of the PC version of the game. As the PC release of GTA 4 was delayed by 8-9 months it wasn't a big hit as the previous one.

DM 5pts

I don't want to keep going off topic discussing the competition on Ubisoft's forums but GTA V will do just fine on current gen machines. The hype level for it is starting to get crazy plus the PS3 and Xbox 360 have a huge install base right now to tap into. GTA V will probably outsell every first year PS4 and Xbox One game with the exception of Call of Duty Ghosts. Next gen is for GTA 6. But regardless both GTA V and Watch Dogs are going to be amazing. I'm predicting both will be nominated for The Spike Awards game of the year.